Two swimmers with local connections are expected to be front and centre when the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships come to Truro.

The event will bring approximately 300 athletes representing 25 countries to Colchester County in July 2018. Details of the competition were released during an official announcement held September 30 at the host location – the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.

Matthew Hunter of Lower Harmony and Jonathan Henry of Dieppe were at the announcement. Both have participated in several world championships in the past, but none will compare to competing on home soil.

“We are Canadians, we are proud of this town,” said Hunter, who won two bronze medals in 2014 at the seventh edition of the championships, held in Morelia, Mexico. He also represented Team Canada at the eighth world championship event, held in Florence, Italy this year. “We will be representing our country like Olympians. It’s nice we will swim in Truro representing our country and community.”

Although he now lives in New Brunswick, Henry grew up in Colchester County. He attended East Court Road Elementary School in Bible Hill and Bible Hill Junior High School before his family moved to Florida. He’s attended world championship events in Taiwan, Mexico and twice in Italy.

His father, Peter, is a native of Truro and still has two brothers who call the area home. Henry’s focus is now on training in an effort to qualify for the event.

“I know I’ll make the team,” he said. “I have a personal trainer and I’m swimming three days a week with the CNBO (Club de natation Blue et Or) swim team. I also swim with Special Olympics once a week and speed skate once a week. I eat healthy and have good nutrition. It will stay the same leading up to the event by my personal trainer will change my exercises.”

The world championships will be held July 20 to 26, 2018. Even though it’s close to two years away, work has already begun in preparation. Hunter’s father, Jol, was one of the key people who helped bring the event to Truro.

This marks the first time competition will be held in Canada. He says having it in Truro means much more to both Matthew and Jonathan.

“These two athletes have deep connections in this community and they’ve been nurtured by this community,” said Jol. “Thirty years later, they’re ready to give back. From my perspective, this event will bring the attention of the world to this area and that’s a gift from these two gentlemen.”

Jol adds the calibre of swimmers coming to Truro will be top-notch.

“These athletes have prepared and are preparing as much as an athlete would in preparing for a world championship event,” he continued. “You will be seeing world class athletes perform. There are no free rides. The difference between this and other world championships is that the athletes you will see will have started from a point of adversity. They will have to overcome that just to start the process of getting ready for their performance.”

Colchester County Mayor Bob Taylor says securing the bid for the world championships is a big deal for both the region and the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.

“We have a great facility that’s able to host an event like this,” said Taylor. “We want this to be an event facility and so far we’ve been able to host a lot of great events here that I’m not sure we would have been able to bring to the community otherwise. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined bringing an event like this to the area. It’s a big deal.”

Mayor Bill Mills says Truro was up against some stiff competition when it came to winning the bid. However, he says that didn’t slow down the group responsible for handling the pitch.

“Some of the competition we had for this event, in some capacities, was out of the league of Truro especially when it comes down to population and money,” said Mills. “But we came through and our area is victorious. This is just another signature event we all hoped we would see here when we built this facility.”

Tanya Colburne is chairing the host committee. She’s excited not only about what this event will do for Truro and its surrounding communities but the level of competition that comes with it.

Colburne says hotel rooms are already being booked.

“The town will be transformed,” she said. “The biggest thing about an event like this is the support and how far reaching it is. There will be 300-plus athletes but you’ll also see mom, dad, grandparents and representatives from all of the organizations that play a role in this in addition to the general public. People will be blown away by the calibre of competitions that comes with an event like this. People won’t be disappointed.”

Prior to the event, Nick Sharpe, Director of Partnerships and Events for the RECC, says some things will have to be done at the facility to ensure they put on the best show possible.

However, he doesn’t expect it to be anything major.

“The first thing we will do is bring in some additional spectator seating,” he said. “As far as a technical aspect, it’s a bit early to speak to that so we will bring someone who is more experienced in those things to deal with the international body. We’ve certainly done our homework to make sure we can handle anything that does need to happen.”

“It sounds like it’s a long way away but an event of this calibre takes that long to organize,” added Colburne. “There are a lot of moving pieces to this and all for great reasons but it takes an army so we will be looking for support in every way, shape and form.”